David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!


“Drafts can get worse. Drafts can get much worse”

 

How the Royals were built

By Grant Brisbee  @mccoveychron on Oct 16 2014, 1:29p 2  

The *pennant-winning* Royals, mind you.

Dayton Moore, Internet punching bag, human knock-knock joke, and giggle-generating general manager, is in the World Series. He's hoping to join the ranks of past GM legends, like Kenny Williams, who actually won the danged thing. This is the same Moore who built some of the most amazing, hilarious rosters (Chris Getz! Yuniesky Betancourt! Willie Bloomquist! Kyle Davies!) of the past 10 years, who was inexplicably extended after a 90-loss season

Trust the Process.

It's easy to be stubborn about this, easy to double-down on the idea that the playoffs are a crapshoot and that any GM can look good. I lived through it with Brian Sabean, watching families get torn apart by the CAN'T-ARGUE-RESULTS and PLAYOFFS-PROVE-NOTHING debates, after 2010. Instead of reinforcing past biases, then, let's actually look at how the Royals were built. We'll limit ourselves to the 25-man roster, though it's not like the Royals have any injury concerns other than Luke Hochevar, which is probably a subject for the near future.

Drafts

Eric Hosmer
Billy Butler
Alex Gordon
Mike Moustakas
Christian Colon
Jarrod Dyson
Terrance Gore
Greg Holland
Brandon Finnegan
Danny Duffy

For most of the last two decades, the Royals have picked at the top of the Rule 4 draft in June. The results had, before this postseason, been underwhelming. It was one of the easiest torpedoes to fire at Moore, a huge flaw in The Process. It's not really as easy as looking at the players the Royals didn't get in the first round, though. You also have to look at the players they avoided.

(Note that Alex Gordon and Billy Butler were already in the system when Moore became the GM.)

Eric Hosmer:

Could have drafted

Were lucky to avoid

Buster Posey

Brian Matusz

Jason Castro

Kyle Skipworth

 

Yonder Alonso

 

Gordon Beckham

 

Justin Smoak

 

Brett Wallace

 

Like, literally more than 1,000 others

Mike Moustakas:

Could have drafted

Were lucky to avoid

Matt Wieters

Josh Vitters

Madison Bumgarner

Daniel Moskos

Jason Heyward

Matt LaPorta

 

Casey Weathers

 

Phillippe Aumont

 

Beau Mills

 

Like, literally more than 1,000 others

Christian Colon:

Could have drafted

Were lucky to avoid

Matt Harvey

Too early to say … but there will be more than 1,000 of them

Chris Sale

 

By limiting ourselves to the active 25-man roster for the NLCS, we don't get to include Luke Hochevar instead of Clayton Kershaw, or Bubba Starling instead of Anthony Rendon, which was one that people were loudly first-guessing at the time. The Royals could have had a much better roster, using the power of hindsight. Instead of focusing on the columns on the left, take the occasional peek at the columns on the right. The Royals aren't here in spite of the draft; they're here at least partially because of it.

Drafts can get worse. Drafts can get much worse. Getting a little production out of Hosmer and Moustakas, even throughout the ups and downs, is somewhere in the middle of the best- and worst-case scenarios.

The Starling-instead-of-Rendon gambit still ticks me off, though, and I have no attachment to the Royals. The good news is that everyone who wasn't a first-rounder -- Danny Duffy and the like -- has to be considered an unqualified success.

International free agents

Salvador Perez
Yordano Ventura
Kelvin Herrera

Just a few months after hiring Moore, the Royals signed Perez and Herrera. If you're reluctant to give Moore credit for those moves, note that Moore brought Rene Francisco over with him from the Braves and made him special assistant to the GM in charge of international operations. The Royals got a franchise cornerstone in Perez (and that's if hedoesn't hit) and an important bullpen cog in Herrera. Only three teams had more international prospects in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook this year.

Ventura was another steal, an unheralded signing who went mostly overlooked because of his size. Before the season, I wrote about why you should root for Yordano Ventura.

... here's a list of all the Royals' pitching prospects to make Baseball America's top-100 list in the past 20 years:

Jeff Granger
Jim Pittsley
Glendon Rusch
Orber Moreno
Jeff Austin
Dan Reichert
Kyle Snyder
Chris George
Mike MacDougal
Jimmy Gobble
Zack Greinke
Luke Hochevar
Dan Cortes
Noel Arguelles
Aaron Crow
Mike Montgomery
Chris Dwyer
Jake Odorizzi
Danny Duffy
John Lamb
Kyle Zimmer
Yordano Ventura

Even with the Royals in the World Series, that list still makes me physically ill. Smell your computer screen. It smells like sulfur. Now you need a new computer. That's the legacy that Moore had to deal with (and contribute toward) when he took over. Ventura is something of a coup.

Trades

Alcides Escobar
Nori Aoki
Lorenzo Cain
Eric Kratz
Josh Willingham
James Shields
Jeremy Guthrie
Wade Davis
Jason Frasor
Tim Collins

That's an impressive list. If you strip away the context -- say, the players who went the other direction -- it's clear that a huge chunk of the Royals' production this year came from wheelin' and/or dealin'. Total WAR for that bunch this year: 17, which is more important than it looks when you consider that Kratz, Frasor, Willingham, and Collins weren't supposed to be major contributors this year (and weren't).

What we don't have is a list of offers the Royals turned down for Zack Greinke and Wil Myers. That would help. But we do have a legacy of teams trading away their best players and prospects and getting nothing of value in return. The Royals got 33 percent of their lineup and 40 percent of their rotation through trades. If you ignore the idea of Myers possibly turning into a superstar on the cheap -- and for the next 10 days, you're kind of silly if you don't -- it's hard not to be impressed with the quantity-turned-quality that the Royals and Moore accumulated over the last two years.

Moore got Guthrie for a broken Jonathan Sanchez, you know. That's worth quite a few trade ribbons and trade medals.

Free agents

Omar Infante
Jason Vargas

You can probably add Guthrie to this list, in a way, considering he was re-signed to an extension, and all three players have contracts that will almost certainly make the Royals feel like they ate gas station sushi in two years. Eight million to a 35-year-old Infante in 2017 is going to feel like $20 million to the Royals compared to other teams. They'll be limited by the deal.

However, it represents one of Moore's greatest achievements: realizing that second base was a huge, gaping hole. He handed these out at the Winter Meetings.

 

Infante didn't have a good finish to the season, but I can pull up a list of the last 10 players to get at-bats at second base for the Royals and feel confident that Infante is better than each and every one of them. It probably would have made more sense for the Royals to wait and deal for someone like Asdrubal Cabrera at the deadline, but now we're in the same woulda/coulda/shoulda zone that we were in for the drafts. There were ways to be worse.

That's almost the slogan for the Moore Era. There were ways to be worse. There were ways to screw up the international scouting completely, or at least prevent it from being a strength. There were ways to Royals up the drafts as bad as they had in the past, and there were ways to turn Zack Greinke into VHS tapes and Wil Myers into someone who didn't help a lick.

Moore has been imperfect. But he's been cagey enough to sneak by us and get into the World Series. If Sean Doolittle doesn't throw that pitch there, or if Bob Melvin lets Jon Lester pitch a little longer, maybe this evaluation isn't so flowery, which means there's too much results-based analysis here. Sure, but I'm not the only one blinded by a pennant. And when you step back and look at the roster, maybe it's worth some time to pick out the things that went right instead of the things that could have gone better.

More from SBNation.com

http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/10/16/6988567/royals-world-series-roster-you-are-awake-and-not-in-a-dream-world-of-fog-and-mist

 

“I think more owners realize this is not a short term fix,”

 

Three questions as the Royals advance to the World Series

October 16, 2014 by Peter Gammons 

 

The countdown to the trading deadline began on the Ides of June, and here we are, four months later, waiting to see what difference all the mystics and statistics really made. On the first day that a team could be elevated to the World Series, the starting pitchers wereMiguel Gonzalez, to block, Jason Vargas for the win, the pennant, two competent, rested, competitive guys who did what they were asked by taking a potential clincher into the sixth inning 2-1.

David Price has gone home, albeit after an eight inning, two run performance that could not make anyone in Detroit forget Guillermo Hernandez. Jon Lester is home as well, given a 7-3 lead against Kansas City in the play-in game and departing with a 7.1 8 6 6 2 5 line. Jeff Samardzija never pitched.

Jake Peavy and John Lackey are alive, Peavy with the one win any of the Big Five starters moved in the trading stretch. “You cannot win without an ace” was incanted into any mike anywhere, and yet those aces that were supposed to be the princes of October were simply good, not great.

The Tiger Cy Young troika allowed 20 earned runs in 20 1/3 innings and did not win a game against Baltimore. The three name free agent aces—Max Scherzer, Lester, James Shields—have thrown 31 1/3 innings and allowed 18 runs.

Not that there’s a significant trend discounting starting pitching. The best, Clayton Kershaw, started two games the Dodgers lost, as they lost the game in which Zack Greinke allowed two hits and no runs in seven innings.

But the fact is the Royals won the ALCS in four straight games by a total of six runs. In those four games, their starters threw a total of 21 innings. Baltimore starters threw 19 1/3.

The Royals won because they are so hot that they have won eight games in a row. Their bullpen, a lock for the final three innings and deep enough so that Jason Frasor andBrandon Finnegan pitched complimentary innings, was as dominant as it was all season, their defense—like Gordon’s great catch Wednesday and the brilliance of Alcides Escobar—bought outs and time for hitters like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Their athleticism played at the right time.

So, in the afterglow while the celebration raves in a great baseball town, there are three questions that will be Thursday’s discussion points:

1. Will owners in San Diego, Houston, Miami and other reconstruction projects appreciate that, as Bobby Cox predicted when he took over the job as Director of Baseball Affairs for the Braves in November, 1985, that it takes a minimum of six years to build a contender for the sustained run? We have seen what Dayton Moore has done, after years of second-guessing. We have seen what Neal Huntington has done in Pittsburgh, two years of the post-season and a deep farm system. We see where the Indians are. “I think more owners realize this is not a short term fix,” one GM said Wednesday. “A.J. Preller is going to have time in San Diego. They’ve been patient in Seattle. What the Royals have done is good for all small market general managers being asked to build a base.”

The one sad sidebar is the Red Sox trying to jump in on the Royals story. Yes, Dayton Moore interviewed in Palm Springs when Theo Epstein was on hiatus in 2005. He told me that before he left two days later he had dropped out because he didn’t think that was the right job for him. He was never offered the job, never invited back, and Larry Lucchino wantedJim Beattie. The need for attention is embarrassing. Fiction.

2. Will teams now concentrate on taking every big arm and looking to build a Herrera/Davis/Holland minuet? “It’s more complicated than simply having high velo arms,” says one GM. “They can throw 100, but if they don’t command their fastballs and have at least one secondary pitch, they get hit. They need to accumulate a lot of innings in the minors as starters, learn to pitch out of jams, work on two or three pitches, then move on.”

Buck Showalter says Wade Davis is the best reliever in the American League. Buck watched Davis go 7 1 0 0 0 6 in the ALCS. He knows he went 72 38 8 8 23 109 during the season.

But those numbers as a reliever came as his velocity ticked up as a reliever. Before moving to the pen permanently, Davis made 135 starts in the Tampa Bay system and another 72 starts with the Rays and Royals. No wonder the White Sox watch Frankie Montas hit 102 on the gun and plan to open 2015 with him at the back end of their rotation.

3. Will this diminish the free agent markets of Scherzer, Lester and Shields? “There are a lot of factors here,” says one GM. “They are very good, but the injury attrition rate of power pitchers in their thirties scares a lot of owners. With hitting the way it is right now and the strike zone expanded to its rule book dimensions, hitting is a premium, and we’ve seen in the post-season you can find accomplished, solid starters, build and protect the bullpen, and win.”

Addison RussellYoenis CespedesJoe KellyEduardo RodriguezAustin JacksonWilly AdamesDrew Smyly and Edwin Escobar have been worth one post-season win.

If having Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke starting for a $240M payroll doesn’t seal the deal, you begin to think: it’s about the totality of the 25 (in reality, 35) man roster, the quality of pitchers from one to 15 and the way they are used, not abused. On the Ides of October, the best bullpen in baseball gassed the Orioles, which means the technographic critics (as Bob Dylan put it, “back seat drivers don’t know the feel of the wheel but they sure know how to make a fuss”) haven’t yet figured out that baseball isn’t rotisserie, it is human.

http://www.gammonsdaily.com/peter-gammons-three-questions-as-the-royals-advance-to-the-world-series/

 

“in theory you can either raise the ceiling or raise the floor”

 

Dan Duquette and Avoiding the Awful

by Jeff Sullivan - October 14, 2014

So can we just go over this one more time? I know everyone knows about it, but it’s still freaking crazy. The Orioles are in the ALCS. That’s already pretty nuts. ButUbaldo Jimenez, who they gave a lot of money to, was bad. He’s not on the roster.Matt Wieters played 26 games before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Manny Machado managed half a season before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Chris Davis basically just sucked. He’s not on the roster. Even if, in March, you had a program of your own that predicted the Orioles would get this far, your program still would’ve been wrong about how it all happened. The Royals? Great story. The Orioles? Great story, too. There are so many reasons why so many people seem to find this year’s ALCS more compelling than its senior companion.

Clearly, the Orioles have gotten contributions from enough other people to make up for the missing or underperforming stars. Clearly, the Orioles assembled some depth. This all got me thinking about Dan Duquette, and a certain principle. One way to improve a roster is by adding more good players. Another way to improve a roster is by eliminating the bad players. Of course, you want to do both, but in theory you can either raise the ceiling or raise the floor. It seems to me the Orioles haven’t given much in the way of playing time to the truly bad. It seems to me that would be a credit to the organization. To what extent, though, is this actually true?

Duquette was introduced as an Orioles employee in November 2011. So, the team’s had three seasons under his control, so let’s use that as our window. We’ll examine data from between 2012 – 2014.

WAR and replacement level give us a really neat baseline. That baseline being: 0.0 WAR. No matter the playing time, a replacement-level player would be expected to generate a WAR of 0.0. And in theory, there’s never any excuse to play someone who’s performing worse than that. We know that some of that playing time is inevitable, but this is how I’ve chosen to test things. I looked at players who finished with negative WAR in each of the last three seasons. I then sorted them by team, and I did some basic addition. Following is a table with two columns. One’s got team names in it. The other’s got the three-year sum of negative WAR. Browse!

Team

Negative WAR, 2012-2014

Rays

-8.3

Athletics

-10.4

Nationals

-10.8

Braves

-11.0

Angels

-11.5

Orioles

-12.6

Cardinals

-13.3

Tigers

-13.3

Rangers

-13.6

Giants

-14.2

Royals

-14.5

Red Sox

-14.5

Diamondbacks

-15.3

Pirates

-15.3

Yankees

-15.5

Blue Jays

-16.5

Brewers

-16.6

Rockies

-17.0

Reds

-17.6

Mets

-18.0

White Sox

-18.3

Mariners

-18.6

Indians

-18.7

Twins

-18.8

Dodgers

-18.8

Padres

-19.9

Phillies

-21.0

Marlins

-21.3

Cubs

-22.4

Astros

-28.1

Naturally, there’s a strong relationship between this and overall team success. And where do we find the Duquette Orioles? Sixth place, about four wins from the top. All the negative players the Orioles have played since 2012 have accounted for about -13 wins or so, or an average of a little over four a season. Our sample mean is just below -16 WAR. Our sample standard deviation is right around 4 WAR. The Duquette Orioles have been about one standard deviation better than average, in terms of avoiding negative contributions.

In 2014 in particular, the Orioles have shined in this regard. All the negative players combined for just -1.8 WAR. Orioles pitchers accounted for 1.7% of league-wide negative pitcher WAR. Orioles position players accounted for 0.9% of league-wide negative position-player WAR. Of course, the Orioles are 3.3% of major-league baseball.

And we can look at this a different way. The Orioles gave just 3.2% of their innings this year to negative-WAR pitchers. The league average, excluding the Orioles? 13.4%. And, the Orioles gave just 3.2% of their plate appearances this year to negative-WAR position players. The league average, excluding the Orioles? 19.4%. The Orioles, this season, suffered some hardships, and they lost possible star-level contributions. Surprising awesome seasons from guys like Steve Pearce andNelson Cruz have helped to make up for this, but the Orioles have also been helped by a relatively strong bottom of the roster. The depth guys have been adequate, so the Orioles have been able to avoid spending too much time on statistical black holes.

Some of that, as always, is noise, but some of that is a testament to Duquette and the Orioles’ organization. As much as a lot of people get tied up in worrying about the top of a roster, Duquette hasn’t lost focus on the significance of the bottom, and gaining one positive win is no more helpful than avoiding one negative win. The Orioles of recent years have been deep, and this Orioles team has needed its depth the most, and as you’ve noticed, they’re still alive in the playoffs. In a sense, this year’s team captures Duquette’s philosophy in a nutshell. It’s effective even without too much star power, and it’s a handful of breaks away from being ahead 2-0 in the ongoing series. Duquette wanted to have the stars, too, but they’ve managed without.

To awkwardly change gears real quick at the end, there’s also something to be noted here about Andrew Friedman, Ned Colletti, the Rays, and the Dodgers. You see the Rays at the top of the table, with just -8.3 combined negative WAR. The Dodgers are at -18.8, toward the bottom. While the Dodgers, over the last three years, have combined for seven more positive WAR than the Rays, the Rays have been better by about 4 WAR overall, because they’ve been able to have better depth. Friedman has always accumulated talent beyond just the active roster, while Colletti had weaknesses on the active roster.

So with Friedman bolting for Los Angeles, this is an area where I’d expect pretty quick improvement. The Friedman Dodgers will be better prepared for emergency, and they should have plenty of decent players around if and when they need to go past the first 25. This is a way that Friedman had to stay a step ahead in Tampa in order to compete, but it’s not like that lesson will be forgotten just because he has access to a lot more money. No one wants injuries or surprising underperformance, but generally those things can’t be avoided, so the better prepared you are, the better your team’s chances of survival. Friedman and the rest of his staff will work to make the Dodgers more bulletproof. The Brandon League contract can exist for only so long.

To try to tie this stuff together, I guess, we can look to the AL East. There, one executive was held in high regard, and as he bolts for a far different market, he’ll take with him a belief in the importance of depth. And another executive remains, and though his reputation isn’t nearly the same, it’s beginning to look like he’s sharper than he was given credit for. At the top of the roster, the Orioles are decently strong. Yet the top of the roster’s just a fraction of the roster in total.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dan-duquette-and-avoiding-the-awful/

 

“it takes a village to run a baseball team”

 

The Friedman Effect: What’s Next for the Dodgers and Rays?

CHRIS O'MEARA/AP PHOTO

OCTOBER 15, 2014

by JONAH KERI

The Los Angeles Dodgers poached Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, thrusting their new president of baseball operations into a highly desirable position that’s still fraught with major financial challenges, while leaving the Rays in a position that’s still fraught with major financial challenges, but that’s also more desirable than the headlines suggest. The ripple effects will be numerous for both teams. Here’s what to watch.

What Does This Mean for the Dodgers?RON W. HENDERSON/GETTY IMAGES

From the moment Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter and his associates bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt in 2012, the dominant theme surrounding the club has been big money. While the new owners spent $2.15 billion to acquire the team, an all-time record for a sports franchise purchase, they’d be able to both operate on a loan from Guggenheim and use the proceeds from a giant impending TV deal to pay for everything. It looked like the Dodgers would have unlimited money — and unlimited potential.

Only, the Dodgers don’t, and won’t, have unlimited money to spend, which is why they hired Friedman.

Start with the team’s liabilities. Of the $8.5 billion the Dodgers were reportedly set to get from their new TV deal with Time Warner, about $2 billion will flow right into revenue-sharing funds for less wealthy teams. And while reports vary regarding how much the Dodgers need to pay back in loans, the consensus is that the amount easily exceeds $1 billionLos Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke reported last week that the Dodgers would try to slash payroll to about $190 million, down sharply from the approximately $230 million they’re spending on salaries this year. Part of that cut would be to help offset shortfalls from the Time Warner deal, since TV providers such as DirecTV and Cox have refused to pay the massive demanded rights fees to show Dodgers games, leaving fans in Gardena and Reseda and West Covina without Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig on their televisions.

Even amid those financial question marks, the Dodgers are pulling in way too much for us to assume they’re not profitable. If Friedman can help them slice $40 million in payroll by Opening Day, though, the benefits could be substantial: The owners would reap those savings, while the team would potentially duck under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, saving tens of millions both in present and future costs.1 The goal of adding Friedman isn’t only to hang World Series banners; it’s to do so while generating fatter profits for ownership.

Shedding that much payroll will be a huge challenge, however. The Dodgers already have a tick more than $190 million committed to 15 players for next season,2 including: a $3 million buyout for oft-injured right-hander Chad Billingsley; $11 million combined for infielders Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena, who managed 54 combined at-bats in the majors this season and carry serious question marks about their ability; $23.5 million for the lamentable bullpen combination of Brian Wilson, Brandon League, and J.P. Howell, who were a big part of why Kershaw was left out to fry twice during the NLDS; $21.4 million for Carl Crawford, who hasn’t played more than 116 games in a season since 2011; and $18 million for Andre Ethier, whose $85 million contract has been a disaster from day one.

Contracts are guaranteed in baseball, which means the Dodgers can’t get off the hook by cutting any of those players. The team would need to find takers for those guys and/or someone like Matt Kemp (who’s owed $107 million over the next five years) or Adrian Gonzalez (more than $85 million over the next four). And then there’s the matter of taking care of the rest of the roster, where hefty raises (via arbitration) are in store for players like Kenley Jansen and Dee Gordon, and where the team will surely want to add bodies via trade or free agency this winter.

Two potential big cuts could be on the horizon: First, it’d be a big upset if the Dodgers re-sign impending free agent Hanley Ramirez. Friedman’s not one to be tempted by Triple Crown stats alone, and it’s tough to imagine him throwing lots of money at an injury-prone malcontent on the wrong side of 30 who’s more of a DH than a shortstop at this point — an obvious problem for an NL team. Second, Zack Greinke can opt out of his $147 million deal after next season, so Friedman needs to figure out if that’s a good thing (given the desire to shed payroll) or a bad thing (since Greinke is really good).

JEFF ROBERSON/AP PHOTO

Friedman is as well positioned to make that judgment as anyone. When he joined the then–Devil Rays in 2004, he did so as a 27-year-old graduate of the investment banking and private equity worlds. What might have seemed like a weird fit actually made perfect sense given who his wingmen were: Stuart Sternberg and Matt Silverman, also graduates of the financial world, via Goldman Sachs. After Sternberg succeeded Vince Naimoli as managing general partner in 2005, he hired Silverman as club president and Friedman to run the baseball operations division.

The results didn’t come right away, with the 2006 and 2007 D-Rays losing a combined 197 games. But behind the scenes, good things were happening. Thanks to years of futility, the team was amassing high draft picks, which it used to land contributors such as B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann, Evan Longoria, and David Price. Friedman also made multiple shrewd trades, finding a diamond in the rough in Houston’s Ben Zobrist, flipping former no. 1 pick Delmon Young for a package that netted Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, and so on. While also successfully buying low on players like Carlos Pena, the Rays went from worst to first, storming all the way to the 2008 World Series. That incredible reversal began a stretch in which the Rays, playing in baseball’s toughest division, won two division titles, bagged four playoff berths, and were the second-winningest team in the majors from 2008 through 2013. Despite tiny revenue streams and tiny payrolls due to a weak local TV deal and lousy attendance at the outdated and terribly located Tropicana Field, the Rays won.

The Dodgers hope Friedman can work similar win-smart magic in L.A., only this time with a payroll closer to $190 million. And while the bigger perks of his new gig would seem to be more money plus an all-world talent like Kershaw at his disposal, Friedman’s best hope for honoring his “win efficiently” mandate might actually be the club’s impressive collection of young talent.

While plenty of critics scapegoated Puig for his parade of playoff strikeouts, he was the Dodgers’ best position player this year, and since he’s only 23, he probably will be for the next several seasons. Inking Puig (who’s signed for four more years at about $24 million) and 27-year-old Hyun-Jin Ryu (four years, about $25 million) cheaply will stand as two of Ned Colletti’s greatest feats as Dodgers GM. Another of the newly reassigned Colletti’s biggest achievements: his restraint at this year’s trade deadline, when sellers dangled star players in exchange for the Dodgers’ top prospects, only to have Colletti say no. Third baseman Corey Seager, center fielder Joc Pederson, and teenage lefty sensation Julio Urias lead a stacked Dodgers farm system that could deliver exactly the kind of cheap, high-impact talent to fulfill the franchise’s twin goals of wins and profits.

Of course, one of the teams that talked most aggressively with the Dodgers at the deadline dangled a left-handed ace who would’ve given L.A. an über-rotation. The team was the Rays, the pitcher was David Price, and the guy who did the dangling was Friedman. The hope is that Friedman will take advantage of the players left behind while also doing a better job with the little things, such as constructing a bullpen with more than one reliable reliever in it, which Colletti (who’s shifting into a senior advisory role) failed to do.

Still, plenty of questions remain for the Dodgers. They’ll likely hire another high-ranking baseball ops person to work with Friedman, similar to the Cubs’ Theo Epstein–Jed Hoyer setup, and they need to figure out their managerial situation. Speculation has naturally turned to Joe Maddon, the Rays skipper who worked well under Friedman and gets high marks for his in-game tactics and leadership abilities. Maddon’s under contract with the Rays through next season and told Los Angeles Timesreporter Bill Shaikin he wants to remain a Ray, while Dodgers president Stan Kasten said the team plans to move forward with Don Mattingly in 2015.

Still, the rumor mill won’t let this one die easily. The Dodgers would surely offer Maddon a big raise, lots of talented players to manage, and many of the same freedoms under Friedman, plus the chance to move closer to his wife, Jaye, who spends most of her time in Southern California. After the 2002 season, a scuffling team traded outfielder Randy Winn to the Mariners for a coveted skipper, one of the only times we’ve ever seen a club give up something significant (or, really, anything at all) to land a manager. That manager was Lou Piniella. And the team that got him was none other than Tampa Bay. If the Dodgers and Rays want to make a Maddon deal, there’s precedent.

Add it all up, and it might take a year to see the full ramifications of Friedman’s hiring. Maddon would be a free agent at that point, and another disappointing season in L.A. could prompt the Dodgers to pursue him then, if not sooner. Price also becomes eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and sources say he has quietly expressed an interest in becoming a Dodger. So, too, has Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins slugger who’s rebuffed overtures to sign an extension in Miami, becomes free agency–eligible after 2016, and could be trade bait before that. Meanwhile, the Dodgers will face plenty of stiff NL competition from the perennially successful Cardinals and Giants, the young and talented Nationals, and other rivals. Given all the puzzle pieces in play, hiring Friedman is merely the first step in what will be a complicated quest to accomplish the two things every owner wants: more wins and more profits. It also adds even more drama to what’s already baseball’s most drama-filled franchise.

What Does This Mean for the Rays?

CHRIS O’MEARA/AP PHOTO

Of all the fallout that’s sure to ensue from Friedman’s departure, one of the most surprising early developments was whom the Rays hired to take his spot: Silverman. Though he’ll have more than a decade of experience at the highest ranks of Tampa Bay’s front office, this will be the first time he’ll have “baseball operations” in his job title, much less “president of baseball operations.” Still, under Sternberg, the Rays’ front office has operated more like a series of partnerships than a strict hierarchy. Silverman has long had his hand in the baseball side even while maintaining his primary role as team president (a position that now goes to Brian Auld, previously the team’s senior VP in charge of business ops).

More than anything, Silverman’s new title demonstrates something that’s evident in every front office, but especially Tampa Bay’s: The GM might get the rock star treatment, and those below him might be mostly anonymous, but it takes a village to run a baseball team.

In the Rays’ case, that village includes scouting director R.J. Harrison, farm director Mitch Lukevics, baseball ops directors Chaim Bloom and Erik Neander, baseball research and development director James Click, pro scouting director Matt Arnold, and many others. If you’ve followed baseball’s analytical writing community over the years, you might’ve read the work of Baseball Prospectus alums Bloom and Click as well as the work of Josh Kalk, Shawn Hoffman, Dan Turkenkopf, and Peter Bendix, all of whom have played key roles in helping the Rays build a reputation as an analytically savvy and winning ballclub. Lest anyone think the Rays rely excessively on stats, think of Crawford and Upton, James Shields and Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings and Jake McGee, Longoria and Price, and remember all the people who helped scout and develop those fine, homegrown players.

Silverman told Rays beat writer Marc Topkin he has no plans to create an Epstein-Hoyer or Friedman-TBA setup, adding that he doesn’t expect to hold the de facto GM position for 10 years. Read between the lines and you can see how the Rays function. Under Friedman, it was never about one guy, and it certainly won’t be under Silverman, with the not-for-10-years statement suggesting that one of the many shrewd people in Tampa Bay’s front office could take the reins in the not-too-distant future once that someone gains more experience. In the meantime, Silverman, like Friedman, will lean heavily on the deep front-office roster surrounding him to make decisions.

And like Friedman, Silverman will guard the Rays’ trade secrets like a rabid jackal and do his damnedest to keep all of those front-office contributors cloaked in mystery, so other teams won’t be tempted to swoop in and poach them, too. Three years ago, I published a book calledThe Extra 2%, which detailed the Rays’ methods as well as their obsession with secrecy. Now that Friedman’s gone and organizational continuity becomes even more important, expect that quiet, team-oriented management approach to continue. Don’t expect the Rays to lose much of their decision-making skill.

The more pressing issue is the team’s on-field talent. Since the Rays nabbed Price with the top pick in 2007, their drafts have been a raging disaster. Only one first-round pick since then has appeared in a major league game, and that was Tim Beckham, the high school shortstop who was the no. 1 overall pick in 2008. Beckham has amassed a grand total of eight big league plate appearances. That’s a particular shame considering the player selected four spots later in ’08: Florida State catcher Buster Posey. That blunder was one of several Rays draft mishaps that’s thinned what was once a ludicrously loaded farm system.

Meanwhile, new limits on amateur draft and international signings have the potential to hurt teams like the Rays hardest; already shut out from bidding on the biggest major league free agents, the low-revenue Rays now stand to incur significant penalties if they try to spend a few extra million on younger talent. This year, they’ve opted to exploit loopholes in the system and spend big on a few high-potential international players. It better work, because the Rays will now have their hands tied for a while in terms of budget space on that front.

The good news is that the major league team could still be competitive in the near term. The Rays were a playoff team as recently as last year. Even after trading Price to Detroit, they control the rights to multiple quality twentysomething starting pitchers, including Cobb, Moore, Hellickson, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly. Smyly was the biggest piece of the Price deal that also delivered Willy Adames, an intriguing teenage infield prospect, and Nick Franklin, a versatile player who the Rays hope could one day become a poor man’s version of Zobrist. In addition to Zobrist, the 2015 lineup will likely include Jennings, franchise player Longoria, 2013 Rookie of the Year Wil Myers (whom the Rays hope can shake off this season’s injuries and ineffectiveness), and other capable players. Even with the Rays contemplating a payroll reduction of their own, getting Price off the books and potentially trading a couple of arbitration-eligible players (Hellickson? Matt Joyce?) could net a competitive team next season.

OM SZCZERBOWSKI/GETTY IMAGES

The bigger concern is what might happen long term. Though Friedman might take a couple of key folks with him to Los Angeles, it’s hard to imagine a mass exodus of front-office minds. The man to watch is Sternberg. The Rays owner is the one who set the tone for that collaborative and highly effective management structure that will remain in place even with Friedman gone. He’s also accepted the “good enough” status quo in St. Petersburg, banking some profits thanks to baseball’s healthy national revenue streams and revenue-sharing system even as the far greater riches that would come with a better TV deal and better stadium deal elude him.

The Rays’ current local TV deal, which nets them a paltry $20 million a year,3 expires after the 2016 season, so there’s at least a glimmer of hope on that front. Still, no one but Sternberg knows how long he’s willing to hold out. Tampa–St. Pete taxpayers have (rightly) balked at a hugely expensive, publicly funded new ballpark, but Friedman’s departure could nudge the needle a little more. Moreover, if Sternberg and his partners sold the team tomorrow, they’d make a gigantic profit from the $65 million it took to gain their initial 48 percent stake, with a purchase price of $500 million or more in play.4 Of course, given how dramatically this franchise altered its fortunes after Sternberg arrived, imagining a world with someone else in charge won’t be pleasant for Rays fans.

As is usually the case in baseball, the most likely outcome for both the Dodgers and the Rays probably lies somewhere in the middle. Expecting one smart hire to spark a streak of World Series wins ignores how spectacularly difficult it is to win even one title, let alone a bunch of them. Conversely, removing one brick, even a very valuable one, is highly unlikely to make the walls cave in for an organization as well built as the Rays are on the baseball side. We may eventually look back to Friedman’s move as a turning point for the Dodgers and the Rays, but if we do, it’ll be less because of the man and more because of the ripple effects he caused.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/andrew-friedman-leaves-tampa-bay-rays-for-los-angeles-dodgers-impact/

 

“It’s no secret how hard their jobs are”

 

To Give and to Receive: In Praise of Posey, Perez, and a Dominant Catchers’ World Series

BRAD MANGIN/MLB PHOTOS VIA GETTY

OCTOBER 17, 2014

by LOUISA THOMAS

One of them is among the most valuable players in baseball; another is among the most dazzling talents. But perhaps the most extraordinary and singular thing about the two catchers who will be starting in the World Series, Salvador Perez and Buster Posey, is that when we look at them, we want to see them. They seem to tell us something about how two wild-card teams could come to seem great. They seem to embody, in fact, the game itself.

It isn’t that most catchers are overlooked. We know, now, how deserving catchers are of respect. We’ve been able to measure how valuable they are to their teams, how they contribute to wins and losses. New technologies and analytics have allowed us to study how they frame pitches, steal strikes, hold baserunners on. It’s no secret how hard their jobs are, how closely they study every batter, how carefully they read every situation, how confident they have to be to call for that breaking ball with a runner on, how many small adjustments, snap decisions, and high-cost calculations they have to make. We know how physically demanding their position is, how much resilience it requires, inning after inning, game after game, rarely with rest, to remain always alert. The body control it takes to be perfectly still and yet ready to smother a wild firecracker of a pitch. The strength necessary to jump up from a squat. The precise footwork needed to receive a pitch and fluidly hurl a throw — sometimes long and sudden. The stamina to do it for nine innings, or 12, or, if need be, 18.

They’re vulnerable. They are routinely hit by errant foul balls and bats, defenseless to a long backswing that can be worse than a punch to the jaw (as Perez, who spent time on the concussion list last year and got clocked on a backswing in Game 2 of the ALDS and Game 3 of the ALCS, knows too well). Until the recent rule change about collisions at home plate, they faced the prospect of blocking barrelling men, absorbing a force that could snap a leg (as happened to Posey, brutally, in 2011).

And they’re valuable. As much as anything else, that’s what this crazy playoffs has taught us. It may be a coincidence that the two teams headed to the World Series have two of the best catchers in the majors, and it may be a coincidence that the two teams to emerge from the championship series are the two that were able to play every game with their top backstops. A best-of-seven series, obviously, is a small sample size. But in this age of great catchers, it certainly feels right. It’s hard not to wonder what would have happened if the Orioles’ Matt Wieters, a two-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All Star, had been playing behind the plate instead of the rookie Caleb Joseph, who couldn’t handle a throw home on a fielder’s choice in the first inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, allowing the decisive two runs to score. And it’s hard not to wonder whether the Cardinals would have lost three tight games in a row to the Giants if Yadier Molina — one of the greatest catchers of all time — hadn’t been out with a strained oblique. Molina, after all, is not merely one of the best at keeping runners close; he is one of the best at calling games, reading and readying the field, and reading and readying the field in high-pressure situations. Molina ranks above average in every advanced catcher stat. But his loss was incalculable. Even statisticians who have made remarkable advances in measuring catcher contributions haven’t figured out quite how to break down everything he does for the Cardinals’ defense and staff. Among his tools is a kind of psychic ability to be mindful and sympathetic, subtly supporting, responding to, and directing the pitchers on the mound — things you can’t even see, let alone measure.

Catchers aren’t easy to watch. When most of them settle behind the plate, our eyes rest on them for only the moment it takes for a hand to flash a sign. Then, they position themselves, and in doing so, become smaller. They are almost invisible, unreadable, hidden behind their masks and protected by their guards. Their bodies folded between their bent legs, they seem no more real than origami frogs. Our attention shifts, screening out the familiar and the faceless figures behind the protectors and masks, focusing on where the action seems to be. Catchers look like passive targets, merely floating gloves. This is as a catcher wants it: If he is doing his job well, he’s making the guy on the mound look good. The star catchers who guided their teams into the postseason fade, and it’s by their own design. We’re hardly aware of the currents of action already in motion, as Perez or Posey marshal a war between batter and pitcher in which they only seem to have no part (we know better, but it will be almost impossible not to think that they don’t).

2014 MLB Playoffs

All of our postseason coverage!If they are heroes during the World Series, it will be because of their bats — as Posey was in 2012, when he hit a two-run homer in the 10-inning game that clinched it. Perez’s most talked-about moment so far came when he reached for a pitch and knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning of the wild-card game. But their more consistent contributions will come on defense. They are involved, after all, in every pitch.

The catcher is, in some strange way, a kind of embodiment of the game. He is the audience, facing the field. He is the umpire, armored in gear and hovering behind the strike zone. He is the sabermetrician, an adept of game theory, constantly calculating (unconsciously or not) risk and probability. He is the manager on the field, directing pitchers and sometimes defenses, making visits to the mound. And in his small rhythms, habits, and actions, he is the game itself — the sudden and violent movement, the still and quiet grace. There’s a phrase you sometimes hear about a catcher: the feel for the flow of the game. Here’s where the game’s mystery and mastery begin.

♦♦♦

JOHN WILLIAMSON/MLB PHOTOS VIA GETTY

It’s no more possible, of course, to consider “the catcher” as an abstraction than it is “the manager.” (Imagine referring to Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost as a single entity!) Perez and Posey are two of the best catchers in baseball, but watch them, and you’ll see how different they are.

Perez, for starters, is huge — 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. Even when he rounds his back and squats, head forward, glove low, and right hand tucked behind him, he seems massive. He has that classic catcher’s quality, the solidity of a wall and the softness of a pillow. Even his smile is easy and wide. He has an unusual, magnetic energy. The Royals scouted him in his native Venezuela when he was 16; now 24, he has become a symbol of the infectious joy of the Royals, a rejuvenated team.

The Royals are unpredictable and Perez is reliable — and those two facts are not unrelated. Because he is so sound, he helps the pitching staff take chances — chances that are right now breaking the Royals’ way again and again. Perez is known for his phenomenal blocking ability; he’s considered by many the best in baseball. Knowing that Perez is unlikely to give up passed balls has given Royals pitchers the confidence to put more movement on the ball and throw their most aggressive stuff. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Royals’ rotation has improved significantly since Perez came up. That’s not all due to Perez, of course — but it says something that the rotation continues to be significantly stronger with him than without. This season, Royals pitchers posted a 3.24 ERA when Perez was catching, and 5.12 in the 202 innings he wasn’t — though this is a small sample size and a figure that doesn’t take into account team defense, park, or league.

There were few innings he didn’t catch. Among his greatest attributes was his durability: This season, Perez led all catchers with 146 games played — 10 more than anyone else. (Of course, there’s a cost. As Grantland’sBen Lindbergh noted, Perez’s extraordinary playing time is probably linked to the decline in his offensive production since the All-Star break, and it could have consequences for his longevity down the road.) The Royals pitchers give him more chances to block balls than most other rotations would — Perez had 6,396 blocking chances, over 2,000 more than Posey — and he comes through. By some advanced metrics weighting blocking opportunities, he isn’t quite as good as his reputation, but the Royals staff is open about the effect his blocking has on their willingness to throw pitches.

“People take for granted his blocking abilities,” Bruce Chen told MLB.com. “I don’t think anyone here is afraid to throw anything in the dirt on any count with a runner on third base.” Ervin Santana echoed Chen. “The thing is, when we have him behind the plate, we’re not going to think about — is he going to block it or not?” Santana said. “We just have so much confidence that he’ll block it; he does everything it takes to keep the ball in front of him so the runner doesn’t advance.” He is a big cat behind the plate, quick and agile and low, with a silky looseness to his glove when he’s dropping to smother a ball. He can slide and dance on his knees, never panicking while the ball bounces and jives, but keeping it in front of him while also keeping his attention on base runners, the threat of his strong arm holding them close.

Blocking wild pitches is not all that Perez does for his team. He is among the best at preventing stolen bases — crucial for a Royals pitching staff that tends to let runners on. Since the Royals have pitchers with excellent pickoff moves and an ability to get the ball to the plate quickly, Perez is extremely difficult to run on. He can get the ball down to second in well under the league average of two seconds, with accuracy; he’s been clocked as the fastest at firing to first. He cheats sometimes when he sees a runner breaking or straying, sitting high in his crouch and turning his legs so that he can more quickly jab and fire, his throwing arm barely pulling back. But even from his knees he can fire a precise shot.

What’s more, he tied for second in most catcher pickoffs in 2014 — and is already the Royals’ career record holder. The catcher pickoff is one of the most exciting moments in baseball, and it is rare for a reason. A catcher doesn’t throw behind a runner unless he knows he’s got a chance. The ball has to travel 150 feet to pick off a man who’s gone 10. A catcher with a strong arm will do it successfully once, maybe twice, in a whole season. Perez did it twice in his first game in the major leagues.

He keeps the other team wary. He changes the direction of the game, yanking it up the first- or third-base line. His ability as a backstop allows Royals pitchers to take the risks that are now, however improbably, paying off. With him there, they can go big and go wild.

♦♦♦

One of my favorite moments in baseball today is when Buster Posey trots out to the mound. Even before he says anything, there is an air about him of perfect calmness; quiet, deferential authority. Forget the pitcher; when I watch Posey, I can feel my own pulse slow down.

It can be hard to remember that Posey is a catcher in the first place. He’s known, and rightly so, for his hitting; this season, he had an offensive WAR of 5.55. When he’s not wearing his gear, he doesn’t look like a catcher. He’s not small, but there’s something slight about him — the sloping shoulders, the pale skin. His uniform looks baggier than it actually is.

Even more than most catchers, he seems to vanish into the scene. This is not a quality of character, it’s a skill: It’s how he frames pitches. What you think you see is merely a ball or strike. But Posey only seems to take himself out of the picture. When a ball is wide or low, he’ll subtly move his body instead of dropping his head or his hand, so that a borderline ball looks like a true strike. Statisticians have shown how much the strike zone has expanded in recent years — in 2008, it was 436 square inches; in 2014, it was 475 — and pitch framers like Posey are among the reasons why. Baseball Prospectus used PITCHf/x data to calculate that in 2014, he gave Giants pitchers 124 extra strikes.

Posey won’t stay a catcher for too much longer; the hazards are too great, and he’s too good an offensive player to risk it. Which is why, now more than ever, he’s worth watching. He’ll try to slip away from your attention — just as he slowly backed away from Asdrubal Cabrera when Cabrera lit into umpire Vic Carapazza after being called out on strikes in Game 2 of the NLDS. (Manager Matt Williams was kicked out of the game soon after.) As a FanGraphs breakdown of Vic’s strike zone during the 18-inning Giants victory showed, the Nats were justified in flipping out. Carapazza had expanded the strike zone — very much in the Giants’ favor. San Francisco saw 20 typical balls called as strikes, double what the Nats got.

Carapazza had a terrible night. But that was in part because Posey had such a good one. In more than six hours — six hours! Two games’ worth of innings! — he was a magician, orchestrating his own disappearing act while pulling strikes out of balls. He would receive the pitch with a quiet glove, a still head, and a pause of steady conviction, while very slightly shifting his body — seeming to stay still by making small movements. None of those strikes by themselves shifted the course of the game. There was nothing flashy, nothing you could point to, nothing you could hang your wonder on. There was only the wonderful satisfaction of witnessing a hard job well done.

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/buster-posey-salvador-perez-dominant-catchers-world-series/